Every chef’s dream is to have in his own restaurant. For 33-year-old, third-generation Jerusalemite Lior Haftzadi, that dream came true the last week of June when he opened Lara.

After finishing the army (“I was in intelligence”), he completed the course at the Tadmor Culinary School in Herzliya (“one of the best in Israel,” he says).

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He spent the next 10 years studying in Italy at a Michelin two-star restaurant; then tutelage under Ezra Kedem at Arcadia in Jerusalem with the Oslo Bar (now closed) and the past five years at the Canella restaurant on Rehov Shlomzion Hamalka.

Three months ago he left Canella and began to look for a spot to open his own kosher restaurant. He found a building off Nahalat Shiva that had once housed a restaurant, with the original stone floors and arches still intact.

He opened the wall to the kitchen and placed bar stools at a counter so customers could watch him and his three-man team prepare the food. Two of his helpers are graduates of the culinary course at Hadassah College. Above the work counter are spices and nuts, carefully labeled in plastic boxes, neatly stacked and representative of Haftzadi’s sense of order in the kitchen.

Next to this area is the beverage bar with bar stools.

On the wall of the main dining room is an original mural of Rehov Rivlin by Meir Amar. Toward the back is a private dining room. The three interior rooms can accommodate 55, while the outside area can seat 25.

Haftzadi says he’s had an interest in food since he was a child when his father owned and operated three events halls. “I loved it, and I started to work with him.”

Haftzadi goes to his restaurant every morning at 10 and works all day. When he turns the key in the door, he says to himself, “I did it! My dream has come true. Now it’s time to make it bigger.”

Haftzadi explains that the fish on the menu come from Ashdod and from Avner Dagim in Mahaneh Yehuda, while he purchases the meat from Moshe Sikva in the shuk. “I try to put on the menu the best I can get on the market and keep the prices reasonable,” says the chef.

What distinguish the menu at Lara from that of other restaurants are the 12 uncommon appetizers, such as veal sweetbreads, tongue and brains. The restaurant’s 10 main courses include salmon, chicken, lamb, liver and entrecote. Meals come with side dishes or salads, which are not available a la carte.

Presentation is very important to Haftzadi, and he is meticulous about the way he plates each dish. For example, the sweetbreads are served in a ceramic Moroccan tagine and the mea balls are served in a black ceramic casserole dish.

When asked if he thought there was such a thing as Israeli cuisine and if his menu reflected it, the chef replied, “I believe there is an Israeli cuisine and I see it in one of my entrees, Grandma’s meatballs, a combination of new and old world. I call my style of cooking ‘Israeli bistro with touches from the world.’” What does he want to do in the future? “Maybe open another restaurant. I also want to do haute cuisine catering.”

But for now, Lara is his baby and he will have to see how it develops.

When Haftzadi leaves for the night, he says, “I think of tomorrow.

I want to improve, make it better every day, to know that people who ate here have a good place to come again.”

Lara is located at Rehov Ben-Shetah 3. It is open for dinner Sunday through Thursday from 6 p.m. to the last customer. It is closed on Friday ; open Saturday night half an hour after Shabbat is over. Tel: 537-0701. Kosher.
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